Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has warned Ethiopia not to “touch a drop of Egypt’s water, because all options are open,” following earlier comments that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project could lead to “unimaginable instability” in the region.
The statement came after the latest round of GERD talks, hosted in Kinshasa by President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, ended in early April without progress. Subsequently, Ethiopia has proposed a meeting of the African Union Assembly to bring an end to the deadlock.
The tripartite talks involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have reached a new level of urgency as Ethiopia prepares to commence the second stage of filling the 6 GW dam on the Blue Nile when the rainy season commences in July. Egypt and Sudan had insisted upon reaching agreement on water flows prior to any further filling.
Sudan’s irrigation minister Yasser Abbas also warned that the dam affects Sudanese national security, echoing al-Sisi’s words that “all options are open”, including the involvement of the UN Security Council. Sudan’s foreign minister Mariam al-Sadig al-Mahadi told reporters that Ethiopia was directly threatening the people of the Nile basin and Sudan, saying: “Without a new approach to negotiations, there becomes space for Ethiopia to impose a fait accompli and put all the peoples of the region in grave danger.”
While insisting it will not enter into an agreement that infringes upon its rights to use the Nile, Ethiopia has sought to tone down the rhetoric. After the talks, Ethiopian water minister Seleshi Bekele told a press conference: “This kind of thinking is unnecessary, and exaggerating this kind of thing doesn't benefit any country." However, he reiterated Ethiopia’s commitment to continue filling the dam despite the objections from Egypt and Sudan, saying: “As construction progresses, filling takes place … We don’t deviate from that at all.”
One of the major sticking points in the discussions is understood to be the desire by Egypt and Sudan to include mediation by the US, the EU and South Africa in addition to the African Union (AU). Ethiopia has previously objected to this.
Egypt and Sudan are accusing Ethiopia of political intransigence. For Ethiopia, however, the GERD is crucial to its economic development plans and Addis Ababa is eager for it to finally begin generating much-needed electricity following a construction programme that has lasted 10 years to date. Ethiopia has previously accused the US of favouring Cairo.
The reservoir has a total capacity of 74 billion cubic metres. Ethiopia argues that the gradual filling of the dam is an important part of the ongoing construction and commissioning process. 4.9 billion cubic metres were added during the first filling last year. The goal for this year’s filling is 13.5 billion cubic metres.
Egypt is dependent upon the Nile for around 97 percent of its drinking and irrigation water, while Sudan is concerned that GERD could have a negative impact on its own downstream dams. A total of 250 million people living in the three countries stand to be affected by the dam.